It took me years to decide to take my dad’s 1938 Underwood typewriter to be cleaned and reconditioned. It has always felt to me like my mother’s locket, the one with the picture of my dad before they were married. Her initial “V” on the front of the gold case. It is too valuable to wear anywhere. It is something that cannot be lost.
So I felt that way about my dad’s typewriter. Upstairs in his office at our Ben Franklin store, the typewriter sat on a metal stand. My dad wrote letters on it, always threading in a regular sheet of paper, carbon paper and a thin copy. He mailed the regular sheet, filed the thin copy and used the carbon paper over until it became lettered on every inch. He never wasted a single thing and he hardly ever made any mistakes. Typing.
When I finally took the typewriter in, it was because I was feeling negligent and unworthy of even having the typewriter on my desk. For one thing, I’d taken the typewriter from my dad’s home office after he died and left its cover behind. My dad never left his Underwood uncovered. It never got dusty and the ribbons never dried out. But I let it sit on my desk uncovered, sometimes stacking papers on top. I need to do better by that typewriter, I thought.
When I went to pick up the typewriter, the woman at the front desk looked at me like I had imagined leaving the typewriter there. I should have gotten more of a receipt, more evidence, I thought. I’ve lost the locket right here in this old shop. After long minutes, a man came to the front with the typewriter in his arms. It was shining, clean every inch. But different.
“Where are the letter covers?” I asked. The letter covers are little rubber caps that go over the metal keys. Maybe they’re intended to soften the impact of the stroke on the typist’s fingers, I don’t know. My dad’s typewriter had a full set of letter covers, some more worn than others. And some of them disintegrating altogether.
“You want the letter covers? They’re pretty much shot.” He looked irked, turned around to go to the backroom. I thought to myself, he knows the letter covers are valuable, that’s why he kept them. It was crazy, but to me, everything about the typewriter was valuable. It was the locket I could never wear.
“Here,” he said. “Here are the letters.” He handed me a plastic bag with all the letters and numbers I’d remembered my dad typing. The N, the 9, the semi-colon. I loved them and knew that I could never have left without them. Each one too valuable to wear.